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How does the Court Determine the Relevance of Evidence?

When it comes to evidence at trial, there can be a question of what is relevant and what is irrelevant. It is important that evidence speaks to a particular element lest it unfairly prejudices a jury. This can be a major problem for a defendant. A defense attorney needs to closely examine evidence in order to ensure that irrelevant or prejudicial evidence does not make it to trial.

The question of the relevance of evidence was recently put before the Oregon Supreme Court. In this case, a man was charged and convicted of two counts of first degree sexual abuse. At trial, evidence was presented from the defendant’s landlord who testified he found two pairs of children’s underwear in the defendant’s home. One pair was found under a mattress and the other pair was found stuffed in a duffel bag. This evidence was allowed at trial despite the objections of the defendant’s lawyer.

On appeal, however, the appellate court ruled that this evidence was unfairly prejudicial and ruled that the trial court had erred in allowing the evidence. The Oregon Supreme Court, however, disagreed with the appellate court and ruled that the trial court did not err in admitting the underwear evidence.

The Court ruled that the underwear was more than just a piece of character evidence; they found that the evidence spoke to an element of the sexual assault charge, namely sexual purpose. Since the defendant argued that, if he had touched the victims inappropriately it was on accident and therefore there was intent, the Court found that the underwear contradicted this and spoke to the sexual proclivities of the defendant.

Specifically, the Court found that the underwear evidence meets the standards laid out in OEC 401. The judges ordered the case remanded to the Court of Appeals for consideration of other judicial errors.

It is important that, when charged with a crime, a defense attorney examine all elements of a particular piece of evidence in order to determine if it is admissible. Because prejudicial evidence can be do damning to the accused, if there is a question over a piece and whether it should be admitted into court, a lawyer needs to raise these issues and fight to have it excluded. This way, the defendant can be sure their rights are being respected and they are getting a fair trial in front of a jury of their peers.

At Kroll & Johnson, we will examine any and all pieces of evidence against you to determine their relevance. If pieces are irrelevant or should not be admitted, we will aggressively fight to make sure that they don’t prejudice a jury. We have experience helping clients in Portland and throughout Oregon get the fair trial they deserve. If you have been charged with a crime, you need an experienced defense attorney at your side. Contact Kroll & Johnson today to learn how we can help with your charges.

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